The Largo do Senado is the heart of old
Macau’s casino-driven economy is making global headlines. Last
year, it raked in more revenues than Las Vegas, and several new
mega-gaming palaces are being built. The conjoining of two islands,
Coloane and Taipa, has created the Cotai Strip which is being
developed by Sheldon Adelson’s Sands organization as the former
Portuguese colony’s answer to the Las Vegas strip.
But head inland, away from the neon signs and baccarat tables,
and you’ll find a different Macau where Portuguese and Chinese
historical influences coexist. Macau’s historic center neatly
blends Portuguese colonial architecture with the sounds, smells and
buzz of southern China.
In July 2005, this area was designated as China’s 31st UNESCO
World Heritage Site. The sloping cobbled streets are redolent of
Lisbon or Porto, but with the language and culture of Guangzhou.
Bilingual street signs are inked onto blue and white Portuguese
tiles, and are flanked by eye-catching churches, theatres, temples,
municipal buildings and sections of the old city walls.
Take to the Streets
Begin your walk at the Leal Senado building on Av. Almeida
Ribeiro. Built in 1784 as Macau’s municipal headquarters, this
neo-classical gem features a large courtyard garden, a charming
library and an arched lobby decorated with blue and white
Portuguese azulejo tiles. The front of the building opens out onto
Largo do Senado, the heartbeat of downtown Macau. This classic
Portuguese-style plaza is decorated with colonnaded three-floored
buildings in different pastel shades, and several market streets
lead off in all directions. Snap a few photos here, before turning
right after McDonald’s and follow the gentle slope to Cafe Ou Mun,
a delightful Portuguese cafe serving fresh coffee, sweet custard
tarts and coconut bread.
The Church of Santo Domingo dates back to
Back on Largo do Senado, sneak a quick peak inside the fabulous
lemon-colored Church of Santo Domingo, built in 1587, before
heading east along Rua Sto. Domingos. On the right-hand side (No.
18-20) is Livraria Portuguesa, an old-fashioned bookstore selling
history books, souvenirs and English- and Portuguese-language
newspapers. A little farther along is the once-grand Teatro
Capitol; now home to vendors selling fresh juices and made-to-order
pancakes fillings range from Japanese squid with seaweed to peanut
butter. Continue ahead to the grand mustard-colored Portuguese
Consulate, which sits behind large gates and perfectly manicured
Now wend your way north to the ruins of Sao Paolo church. Built
in 1602, it was once described as the finest church east of the
Americas, but was destroyed by fire in 1835. Climb the steps to the
right toward Monte Fort, replete with sturdy fortifications and
sea-facing cannons. The upper ramparts afford fine views over Macau
and across the narrow dividing channel to the city of Zhuhai in
mainland China. Inside the fort is the fascinating Museu de Macau,
which traces the city’s history. Look out for sections explaining
its once-famous fireworks industry; a favorite local pastime:
cricket fighting; and the 1999 hand-over from Portugal to
Head back down the steps and south along Rua dos Mercadores, a
street full of Cantonese flavor with several Chinese furniture
stores and noodle stalls. At the junction with Travessa do Sonario,
look out for the delightful Ho Hon Kee Dessert kiosk, which has
been serving up sweet local delicacies like black sesame soup and
walnut soup for 40 years. Nearby are several traditional Chinese
pharmacies with unidentifiable medicinal products stored in large
jars. Just along from Ho Hon Kee is the time-warped Farmacia
Chinesa Man Cheong Tong (No. 44 Rua dos Mercadores) look carefully
for the ancient counter-top abacus, used as a calculator. A few
doors down is Companhia de Mariscos Secos San Chiong Bon (No. 74)
which merits a photo even if you may not wish to buy any of the
multiple varieties of dried fish on sale.
At the bottom of Mercadores, skip across Av. Almeida Ribeiro and
head for Rua da Felicidade (Happiness Street) behind the old port.
Bright red doorways and shuttered windows identify once-raucous
hostelries where visiting sailors would seek out after-dark
entertainment. Today, it’s a quiet street, though the shadows of
yesteryear mysteriously linger in the air around dusk.
At the bottom of Felicidade, turn right along Travessa do Mastro
where local bakers serve up bamboo trays of fresh almond cookies
and mix warm sesame paste with peanuts to make a sweet dessert.
This will serve as an appropriate final bite in a true taste of Old